I don’t have a lot of photos from my last trip to Haiti. I arrived on Monday afternoon, and the earthquake happened the next day. After the earthquake, I stopped taking pictures. I kind of stopped functioning altogether. My memory of those few days is already hazy. I really can’t remember much except the fear. I have no idea how I managed to care for a baby, or for Kembert for that matter, in the midst of it. I tend to retreat and get very stoic when I’m stressed. On the outside, I might have looked tired. On the inside, I felt like that scene from the 80’a afterschool special where Helen Hunt takes angel dust and jumps through a second story window.
Even on my best days, I struggle with anxiety. Typically I keep it under control with some cognitive techniques and the occasional Xanax. The earthquake was one of those events that brought my anxiety to the surface. But what was worse than the anxiety were the aftershocks.
In the minutes after the earthquake, the Livesays still had internet access for about 15 minutes (which later went out for several days). When I got online, the first thing I did was to google aftershocks. I knew my time was limited, but I felt compelled to do this before emailing Mark or contacting friends. We experience a nasty aftershock very quickly after the major quake, and I needed to read something that would tell me that this was OVER. I needed to see that aftershocks were just a one-hit-wonder. Instead, this is what I read:
Aftershock can occur for days, and even months, after an earthquake. Aftershocks are dangerous because they are usually unpredictable, can be of a large magnitude, and can collapse buildings that are damaged from the mainshock.
I think this is when the panic really set in for me. I am the queen of catastrophizing. I spent the next several days in hypervigilant mode, sensing to feel if the earth was shaking and running for the door with every tremor. I tried my best not to imagine myself trapped under rubble like the photos and stories I was hearing about outside the gate. I tried not to think about my husband being widowed, my kids being motherless, my baby daughter and Kembert dying painful deaths on my watch. I tried not to think about awful, bloody scenes. I tried.
It’s pretty much all I thought about for four days.
It didn’t help that the aftershocks were intense and dramatic. In the first 24 hours after the earthquake there were 13 aftershocks measuring over a 4.2. By California standards, those are pretty big earthquakes.
After the earthquake, I was in a daze, but there was one moment that I snapped out of it and took out my camera. It was such a cute moment. It was the day after the big quake, and we were having aftershocks all day. Several of us were holed up at the Livesay house, including another adoptive mom, Erin, and her son. Thank God for that . . . Kembert had an instant playmate as I fretted the days away. I filled a pan full of pool water for them, and they were having a blast scooping it from bowl to cup to pan. It was such a moment of pure childhood bliss. These kids had survived an earthquake the day before, were feeling the tremors just like the rest of us, and yet all they were aware of was that very moment. Fun. Laughter. Friendship. Cool water on a hot day.
I remember thinking that I wanted to capture that – to remind myself that even in the worst of circumstances, there can be joy. I am constantly amazed by the ability of children to live life in the moment, and to go through their day unfettered by the stress and worry that plagues so many of us as adults.
At the same time, I am ever cognizant of the pain the Haitian people are still enduring. It’s a delicate balance – trying to figure out how to find joy again, while at the same time still acknowledging suffering.
I’m not finding that balance quite yet.